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21 March 2002 Edition

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Taylor's offensive testimony

As expected, during the two days in which he gave evidence to the Saville Inquiry, former Ulster Unionist MP John Taylor, now Lord Kilclooney, repeatedly denied having any direct knowledge of or influence on security matters in the months leading up to 30 January 1972.

And, in a comment which seemed deliberately calculated to cause the maximum possible offence to the families of those killed on Bloody Sunday, he told the inquiry on Thursday 14 March that he still believes that all the victims were gunmen and bombers.

His remark came during an exchange with Michael Lavery QC, counsel for some of the families, when he was questioned about the then Stormont administration's response to the killings and its fears about the imposition of direct rule. He also went on to claim that nationalists drank and celebrated on the night of 30 January.

Taylor was being questioned about a report dated 4 February 1972 of a meeting between British Prime Minister Edward Heath and Brian Faulkner, during which the latter was reported to have said that "in the longer term, it might be the case that the terrible events in Londonderry would be seen to have cleared the air, once the initial hysteria had subsided".

Lavery suggested to Taylor that the implication was that "these events were anticipated and not unwelcome". Taylor claimed that the remarks simply demonstrated that "the security forces were going to take a firmer line" and also that "it cleared the air for the nationalist people as well because they hardened their position".

He added that nationalists "recognised that this tragedy in Londonderry was a great propaganda coup for them across the world. Indeed, on the night of the deaths, nationalists were drinking and celebrating because of what had happened because they knew it would bring about the downfall of the Stormont parliament."

Lavery queried whether nationalists could really be celebrating the deaths of those shot dead, "whom they regarded - almost from the word go - as completely innocent victims?" to which Taylor replied: "The propaganda was that they were innocent victims... political nationalists in this city celebrated the event because they knew it was the beginning of the end for the Northern Ireland parliament." Lavery inquired whether Taylor "could tell us where these celebrations were taking place and who was involved in them". Taylor claimed that he could "provide a tape" to the inquiry.

A short time later, Lavery asked Taylor if he "believed at the time that 13 gunmen had been killed. Taylor replied; "Oh, yes, I believed that, yes, and still do, incidentally." Lavery questioned whether "If in fact, Lord Kilclooney, 13 gunmen had been killed, so far from being a setback to the Stormont administration, this would have represented a considerable victory over the IRA, would it not?" Taylor insisted that "it was presented in the media, the press across the world that innocent people taking part in a parade had been shot by the British Army, that was the propaganda message".

Lavery then asked why the shooting of 13 IRA gunmen engaged in a battle with the British Army should bring an end to Stormont. "Because the message in Britain was that people taking part in a parade had been shot on the streets by the army and that was unacceptable, unacceptable politically in London," said Taylor.

During questioning by Christopher Clarke QC, counsel to the inquiry, on the Civil Rights movement, Taylor reiterated his written statement in which he said it was "accepted wisdom" that civil rights marches were used as a "cover for gunmen".

Clarke reminded Taylor that when he gave his written statement he could not actually recall any "specific instance" in which a Civil Rights march had in fact been used in such a way. "Is the position any different now?" he asked. Taylor conceded that it was not, but refused to recognise that the accepted wisdom could be, as Clarke put it, "based on a false premise". He insisted that it was based on intelligence despite it being a fact that in 1972 "no Civil Rights march had been used as a cover for gunmen". Clarke asked Taylor if he accepted that "the intelligence might well be faulty, might it not?" to which Taylor replied: "It could be faulty, but when you are a minister you have to believe somebody and you do certainly accept the advice given to you by those who are supposed to know what they are talking about."

The families of the dead and the surviving wounded, some of whom were present in the public gallery when Taylor made his comments, said afterwards that they nevertheless still regard his evidence as being "particularly significant".

"Despite the scandalous and hurtful remarks from John Taylor that 13 of those killed on Bloody Sunday were gunmen and that the people of Derry 'drank and celebrated' the shooting of 27 people in the city that day," they said, "the families and wounded regard his evidence as being particularly significant.

"Whilst not downplaying the role of the Joint Security Committee in security and operational policy at Stormont, Taylor's evidence clearly demonstrates that the Northern Ireland government was a mere puppet regime and that the political and security administration in Whitehall had direct and ultimate responsibility for the planning and conduct of the shoot to kill operation that was executed on Bloody Sunday."
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